Koran burning and riots in Sweden – the day after

Koran burning and riots in Sweden – the day after

Calm has been restored to Swedish cities after riots rocked the country during the Easter holiday following a series of provocative Koran burnings by a far-right Danish politician with Swedish citizenship.

The planned Koran burnings, some of which were carried out, resulted in violent riots that left 26 police officers and 14 other people injured, 20 police vehicles set on fire and at least 40 persons apprehended or arrested. The politician escaped justice since burning a book which is holy for a community, even if the intention is to incite to hate and violence, is not illegal in Sweden.

The tour started in central Sweden and ended in Malmö on Sunday and since then there have not been any new disturbances there.

“The events in Malmö during Easter are completely unacceptable and the police won’t give way for this type of action,” Jimmy Modin, spokesperson at the southern police region in Sweden, told The Brussels Times. “We don’t tolerate the violence which occurred and are investigating the events to prosecute the perpetrators.”

The Swedish National Police Commissioner, Anders Thornberg, said at a press conference that the police strongly suspects that persons from criminal networks joined the assaults on police officers.

The decisions whether the Danish politician, Rasmus Paludan, would be allowed to carry out public Koran burning protests were taken on regional police level. In some cases, he was given permission, in other cases the event was moved to a place outside the city or banned altogether, depending on local circumstances. The riots that followed will also be investigated by respective police region.

Paduan himself complained in an interview that the police had lost control and could not protect him against stone-throwing counter-protesters. He motivated the Koran burning as a protest against the failure of Swedish society to integrate immigrants that do not accept Swedish law and social norms and the right to criticize religion.

Jimmy Modin confirmed that a two-year travel ban to enter Sweden was issued against Paludan in August 2020 after a public burning of the Koran in an immigration neighbourhood in Malmö. The ban was however lifted after he applied for and received Swedish citizenship. Seven persons were convicted for participation in the violent riot in 2020.

Swedish legislation

The police spokesperson explained that everyone in Sweden has the right to freedom of expression and demonstration. To organise a demonstration at a public place requires a permit from the police. “It´s allowed, within the framework of freedom of expression, to express opinions and to do things that can be provocative and arouse feelings to generate debate”.

The requirements for refusing permits are high, he said. The police are not giving a permit to anyone’s opinions but to the right to express them. It intervenes only if a crime against Swedish law is committed in connection with a public meeting or demonstration.

Is there a common policy to deal with Koran burnings if the intention is to incite hate against Muslims and likely will lead to the disturbance of public order and violence? This is not a question for the police but for the law makers, Modin replied.

The European Commission told The Brussels Times that the investigation and prosecution of specific instances of alleged hate crimes or hate speech is the competence of national authorities. “It’s neither the role nor competence of the Commission to be involved in any national investigations.”

Commission position

Can the 2008 Framework Decision from 2008 on combating certain forms and expressions of racism and xenophobia by means of criminal law be applied against the public burning of the Koran with the intention  to incite against Muslims?

“It’s the competence of national authorities to identify, investigate and prosecute specific instances of hate speech,” a Commission spokesperson replied.

The Framework Decision obliges EU member states to criminalise hate speech defined as the public incitement to violence or hatred directed against a group of persons or a member of such a group defined by reference to race, colour, religion, descent or national or ethnic origin.

Asked if the Sweden is applying the decision correctly, the Commission replied that it cannot comment on its application in concrete cases but recalled that it in February 2021 initiated an infringement procedure against Sweden and four other member states on issues related the transposition of the Framework Decision. In Sweden, the definition of hate speech is more restrictive.

According to the Commission, Swedish legislation incorrectly transposes hate speech inciting to violence and fail to criminalise hate speech when addressed to individual members of a group defined by the criteria in the decision. In addition, Sweden fails to criminalise specific forms of hate speech, such as the public condoning, denial or gross trivialisation of international crimes and the Holocaust.

M. Apelblat

The Brussels Times

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